Budget boost for Baxter rail By Mike Hast

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In our March issue we published a story about the long-proposed extension of the metropolitan train line from Frankston to Baxter – “Century-old rail dream on horizon”. It mentioned a Victorian parliamentary committee that recommended electrifying the line in 1929, which was rejected by the government. Nothing happened for nearly 90 years — until Budget night last month when Treasurer Scott Morrison committed the Federal Government to spending $225 million to extend and electrify the line.

 

Fast-forward six years: it’s 2024, and you’re taking the kids and their grandma to Melbourne for a big day out. Just a year ago you would’ve all piled in the SUV and battled the mid-morning traffic on the Monash Freeway, paid the toll, paid for expensive parking. Paid $2.50 for a litre of petrol, too. It’s $145 to fill the tank nowadays.

But the train line to Baxter opened just a few months ago. Your friends used the service just last week and said it was fantastic. They drove from the southern Peninsula to Baxter, parked for free next to the station and jumped on a city-bound train; they run every 15 minutes. No stress, no traffic jams, no parking hassles. Free Wi-Fi kept the kids entertained while you and Mum had the chance for a good long talk.

This scenario is one step closer after last month’s federal Budget. Many residents would like a train all the way down the Peninsula but the population simply won’t support it. Perhaps this will take another 90 years.

The rail extension project is now more than a pipe dream after two key events — the Federal Government providing $3 million for a business case, and the $225 million in the federal Budget. The Government also provided $1 million to investigate building a third line between Frankston and the city, an express line that would halve journey times.

Now the project needs the State Government to match the federal cash, a condition of Canberra’s commitment. Nothing was announced in the state Budget but Victorians go to the polls this November and it is reasonable to expect some promises for the Frankston electorate. Premier Daniel Andrews will be guest speaker at a lunch organised by advocacy group Committee for Greater Frankston on June 27. Perhaps he will arrive bearing gifts?

The committee’s chief executive Ginevra Hosking said the $225 million allocation “is the first serious commitment to a vital regional project”. Ms Hosking acknowledged the role of Dunkley federal Liberal MP Chris Crewther: “Mr Crewther secured $3 million of federal money for a business case, which the State Government is undertaking, and now money in the Budget towards its construction. It’s a great result.”

In a statement, Mr Crewther said: “The $225 million (will) get works underway on electrification and duplication, which is crucial for our local area.” It will reduce commuting times for “many residents in Frankston City and the Mornington Peninsula”, he added.

In response to the federal Budget announcement, a State Government spokesman told the committee: “We’ve campaigned hard for a fairer share for Victoria and it seems the campaign has worked. Planning work is already underway on the electrification to Baxter, and we will work in partnership with the Commonwealth Government as to what’s next.”

The Committee for Greater Frankston is advocating for a new station to service Frankston Hospital and Monash University’s Peninsula campus as well as stations at Karingal and Langwarrin, two of Melbourne’s most car-dependent suburbs with a combined population of 37,000. It also wants a 1000-plus space commuter park-and-ride next to Langwarrin station to entice commuters away from limited Frankston station and CBD carparks.

Committee president Fred Harrison said a project many thought was a dream had been brought into sharper focus by the Budget allocation. “The rail extension will radically transform public transport in our region, driving job creation, getting cars off congested roads, freeing up crowded carparks, improving prosperity, and making better use of public and private assets like Frankston Hospital and Monash University’s campus at Frankston.”

Mike Hast is a freelance writer for the Committee for Greater Frankston and a former editor of Peninsula newspapers.

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